God Leadeth Thee to Repentance – Romans 2:4-11

 
Bro. Asmundson called me Thursday morning as he was driving past Ellensburg toward Seattle. He asked, “To whom was the Book of Romans written?” My answer was that Paul was writing to the church in Rome – or perhaps “a” church in Rome. (If the Lord is gracious, He might give us time to get to that particular subject one of these days.) And then I took Bro. Bill to chapter 16 which speaks about the church which met in Aquilla’s house. A corollary was then proposed: “Why is there all this talk about SALVATION if he is writing to Christians?” I suppose that there could be several possible answers: The Holy Spirit could have been leading Paul to expound on salvation on behalf of the millions of sinners from Paul’s day to this day – we all need this important subject. But then more practically, Paul didn’t know many of the people in that church. Perhaps he assumed that there were people among the saints there who may not have been saved. Or perhaps he had been told by Aquilla that there were people associated with the church, even as there are many today, who only think that they are children of God. Their lives lacked any evidence of the new birth. Perhaps there were people concerned about those folk and about the church. Bro. Bill then suggested that there may have also been Judaisers among the Romans as there were in so many of the other early churches. There is also another question: Was Paul thinking about a specific individual – some hypocrite – when he said, “O man, O man”? There are some scholars who think so. Even if Paul didn’t have a particular problem or person in mind when he wrote these first three chapters, it certainly it doesn’t do any of us any harm to look at the vastly important subject of salvation again. And this morning we consider one of the key ingredients in the practical reception of God’s saving grace.

Let’s pretend that the Lord Jesus met ten people one day walking down the street. There was a heart surgeon, a derelict drunkard, a thief caught by a policeman, a judge, a priest, a mother, a teen, a professor of evolutionary biology, and a leading philanthropist, who had recently given a $ million. Some of these people were obvious sinners while others were apparently pretty good people. But not one of these people had ever met Christ before, and they all knew nothing of His gospel. What would be the first really important thing that the Lord would say to that group? I think that I can say, from what I read in the Bible, that His first exhortation would be: “repent.” Everyone of those people, from the mother with a babe in her arms, to the priest and then to the thief – The greatest need of all people everywhere, is repentance before God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

And I hope that you can see that this is essentially the first thing that Paul tells us here in Romans. “Don’t you understand that the goodness and forbearance and longsuffering of God is designed to bring you to REPENTANCE?” Among all the other things that you need – you need, first and foremost to repent. “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Yes, you need to believe on Christ, but that is pointless, unless you repent. And yes, your beneficence and generosity are helpful to people, but they are useless before God unless you repent. And I know that you are young, and that your resume of sin is still small, but you, too, must repent.- Gentiles. In other words, they were people like most of us. God was under no obligation to send His gospel in their direction or ours, but because He so loved the whole world, He chose to evangelize and even to save some of us.

I’d like to spend another half an hour with you this morning thinking about the importance of repentance. Amidst all the false and fraudulent repentance of our day . . . And amidst all the unintentional confusion and ignorance, it is worth our time to study it once again. And this scripture reminds us of some of the problems that sinners have with repentance.

But first, let’s think about FALSE REPENTANCE.

This is extremely important, because the Bible says that people without repentance will never be accepted by the Lord. The reason for this will become apparent in just a minute. But as Paul told the Greeks in Athens, God “commandeth all men every where to repent.” And as Peter told the Jews on the day of Pentecost when they asked what they needed to do to be saved, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.” And even as the Lord Jesus had told us earlier, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” When John the Baptist said that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand, he also told people to repent. It was apparent that repentance was a necessary part of entrance into that Kingdom. And Christ Jesus preached exactly the same message.

As I have often said, repentance is not the same thing as being frightened about Hell. There are a great many things about God that we will never know, because we are incapable of understanding the infinite. But our mental IN-abilities are not confined to grasping deity. There are many things about which we don’t have enough information to understand them well. And there are other things about which is too much for us to handle even if we did understand. For example, if we knew all about Heaven, we might not want to remain another moment on earth. And I think that if we knew all that there is to know about Hell, our hearts would explode out of fear. But fear of Hell is not repentance. Fear is an emotion, but repentance is not really an emotion. By definition repentance is a change of mind, or more particularly, a change of heart about sin and God. It is a spiritual exercise, not an emotional exercise. When Paul had the opportunity to preach the gospel to the Roman Governor of Israel, Felix literally trembled out of fear, but he did not repent of his sin before the Lord. Fear – fear of judgment, fear of Hell – is not the same thing as repentance.

Nor is repentance a yearning for Heaven. Back when I was growing up, so many of the kids my age wanted to be astronauts. They wanted to fly to the moon and beyond; they wanted to see new things. That is not unlike the desire of many people to go to Heaven. But not a single classmate or friend of mine ever went to the moon or has flown in the Space Shuttle. It wasn’t that they were forbidden by law or by their parents. But to be an astronaut requires exceptional mental skills. To be an astronaut requires a level of physical fitness that many people don’t attain. To be an astronaut demands a discipline and dedication that most of my friends didn’t possess. But the lack of these things didn’t take away the desire. And yearning for Heaven is not the same thing as repentance and faith. A desire for Heaven isn’t the same thing as meeting the entrance requirements.

The world might not agree, but a lot of people think that humility is a good character trait. I think that humility is vitally connected to repentance, but humility is not necessarily the same thing as having a change of mind and heart about sin. Some of the most proud people that I have ever met, know how to appear humble. But their humility is not the same as repentance. Confession of sin is another evidence of repentance, but confession is not the same thing as repentance. The Bible has many examples of people who were caught with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar. But their confession and grief wasn’t so much about their sin as much as it was about being caught. Prisons are filled with remorseful people, who upon their release go right back to their old sinful ways. But then on the other hand, a reformed life, and lots of good deeds aren’t necessarily repentance either. To go for years without a sip of alcohol doesn’t mean that a man isn’t an alcoholic. For someone not to take a knife and stab a man to death, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t hate him and wish that he was dead. There are a great many people who confuse what is the fruit of repentance with repentance itself. These things are related, but they aren’t synonymous.

What is repentance?

Repentance is a change of mind about sin, about righteousness and about judgment. Repentance is a change of mind before the all-knowing God; He will not be deceived. Repentance is an agreement with God and involves hatred for sin, because God hates it. Repentance is a turning to God and a returning to God. It is a fleeing from sin; a forsaking of idolatry and a union with the Lord. In the case of the person or people who were in Paul’s mind as he wrote the Book of Romans: repentance was suppo sed to be the death of their pride and ideas of superiority.

Permit me to use an illustration that I’ve used before – a wedding ceremony. There is beauty and pageantry; there is music and flowers; there is great joy and even a few tears at weddings. And there are also vows and promises which are supposed to express the happy couples’ hearts. I think that the vows should include a pledge to forsake all others – a negative promise. Never will that woman date another man. Never will that man buy chocolates and flowers in order to earn the affection of another woman. And both parties in that wedding should also pledge themselves to each other – a positive promise. In sickness and in health; in good times and bad times; for better or for worse. Those two aspects of a wedding vow, the negative and the positive, should be similar to what transpires in the heart of a sinner at the time of his salvation. Repentance is the part of the ceremony where we promise to forsake all others. All sin, all idolatry, all our false doctrine and heretical teaching. As sinners come to Christ they should be willing to wipe the slate clean, making it ready for the Lord to write upon it whatever He will. And faith, on the other hand, is where we pledge everlasting love to our spouse. True faith cannot exist without out true repentance. One is a change of heart and a turning away from our sin; The other is a change of affection and a turning toward the Saviour and His Father. In another place, Paul summarized his gospel exhorting people to “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And true repentance is an on-going thing; in fact it is a life-long spiritual activity. I can’t tell you that Christians never sin, because we see even the best of them bringing shame to themselves and to their Saviour by sin. Even the Apostles and other saints in the pages of the Word of God sinned against the Lord. But true repentance is a change of mind about sin, and it involves an hatred of sin. Repentance is not the ability to be victorious over sin, but rather a desire to be victorious. While Peter warmed himself before the fire of Jesus’ enemies, he anaesthetized his heart, sinning against God. Maybe it would be better to say that he hardened his heart in stubbornness. But it took just a glance from the Saviour for his heart to be broken over that sin. It’s not the same as faith, for in fact, it is somewhat the opposite to faith. And repentance isn’t the same as eternal life, because it is unto eternal life. But the point to be made is that without repentance there is no eternal life and no deliverance from sin.

And even though repentance is often made to represent salvation, it is important to remember that repentance doesn’t save. Repentance doesn’t remove sin or even cause the gracious God to look in our direction. Let’s say that you looked out your window and saw that your neighbor was carrying into his house some wonderful new furniture – maybe a 96″ high definition television or a new bedroom suite. And let’s say that after breaking the tenth commandment, you followed that by breaking the sixth. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s,” including the new addition to his home. Let’s say in this case you broke God’s law about coveting, and you followed that by killing the owner to get it. But then you came to your senses and realized that this was probably a mistake. You were filled with remorse; you were sorry that you killed the man. You restored the television to the man’s widow, and you confessed to her that you had sinned. You went to the police and gave yourself to their custody. And not only that you even expressed repentance to God, beseeching Him to forgive and receive you. Does your remorse and repentance restore the dead man’s life? Can anything undo what you have done?

Repentance doesn’t save men from their sins, because nothing but God can undo what we have done. All sin is against the Lord. “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight.” And therefore, “who can forgive sin but God only?” Forgiveness and deliverance from the effects of our sin, come about only by the grace of God. So it’s not our faith which saves us, and it’s not our repentance. We are saved by grace through faith and repentance which don’t come of ourselves, these things are gifts from God.

The church in Jerusalem correctly said, “Praise God, for he has granted repentance to the Gentiles.” In other words, God had given repentance to the Gentiles. Faith and repentance are not things that people who dead in sin can do on their own. These things are gifts of God’s grace. In Acts 5 Peter said, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, For to GIVE repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” Repentance is a gift of God. In writing to Timothy, Paul said, “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; If God peradventure WILL GIVE them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” Repentance is a gift from God.

True repentance isn’t the means by which sinners are saved. Repentance isn’t something that dead people can do, even those only spiritually dead. Repentance is an act of a living soul, and it proves that God has quickened some sinner who was dead in trespasses and sins. Repentance and faith are gifts of God; vital and essential aspects of God’s saving grace. Just as a new born baby screams and wails and then clings to its mother, A new born child of God repents and clings to its Saviour.

But notice what things Paul says stand in the way of repentance.

“The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy HARDNESS and IMPENITENT HEART treasurest up unto thyself wrath.” Hardness and impenitence stand in the way of repentance. “Hardness” speaks about obstinacy and stubbornness. Why is repentance so difficult – so impossible for sinners to perform? It’s because we are born with “impenitent hearts.” It is against our nature – against our hearts – to repent and humble ourselves before God. We are obstinate; we are stubborn when it comes to our sin and our imagined self-importance.

There is a natural hardness with which we are born, and then there is an additional acquired hardness. The human soul might be likened to certain metals. For example, iron is a hard substance – I wouldn’t want to be hit by something made of iron. But, if I understand it correctly, iron can be made into something much harder by tempering. When the right kind of iron is heated to between 300 and 500 degrees or between 700 and 1200 degrees, its strength is increased by various degrees – it become steel. The amount of heat used determines the strength of that steel. The human heart is like iron, but over time with the addition of hot periods of sin and moments of cooling that heart can actually grow more and more hardened against God. Repentance requires the miraculous power of God Almighty.

In verse 8 Paul adds that we are CONTENTIOUS and DO NOT OBEY the truth.” The sinful heart often loves its sin so much that it will argue and fight to keep it. It doesn’t even matter if it’s opponent is the Holy Spirit of God – it will fight – and it will fight to the death.

But remember that Paul’s purpose in this part of Romans is to prove that we must all stand before the Great White Throne of God to be judged for our sins. Therefore we need an advocate – a Saviour. And we must to repent of our sin. Without that repentance we will be crushed by the judgment of the Almighty God.

In verse 8 Paul adds that we are CONTENTIOUS and DO NOT OBEY the truth.” The sinful heart often loves its sin so much that it will argue and fight to keep it. It doesn’t even matter if it’s opponent is the Holy Spirit of God – it will fight – and it will fight to the death.

But remember that Paul’s purpose in this part of Romans is to prove that we must all stand before the Great White Throne of God to be judged for our sins. Therefore we need an advocate – a Saviour. And we must to repent of our sin. Without that repentance we will be crushed by the judgment of the Almighty God.